620.2Autopsy and Cause of Death

Suggested Questions
Last Updated: 12/01/23

Suggested Questions to Ask Pathologist: 

1.  Please state your name. 

2.  Where do you work and what is your position? 

3.  Are you licensed to practice medicine in this state? 

4.  When did you become licensed? 

5.  Please tell us where and when you received your medical training. 

[Be sure to talk with your witness before asking the following series of questions, and modify the questions as needed if the expert has different education, training, or area of expertise.] 

6.  Do you have a specialty in medicine? (Typically: pathology) 

7.  Please describe your specialty. Please tell us what the practice of pathology involves and what forensic pathology means. 

8.  Are you board certified in pathology? 

9.  What does board certification as a pathologist involve? 

10.  Are you a member of any professional organizations? 

11.  Have you written any book or papers in the field of pathology? 

12.  Have you testified before as an expert in pathology? 

13.  How many times, and in what courts? 

Tender witness as an expert in pathology or forensic pathology. 

14.  What are your duties as a pathologist? 

15.  Does your work include performing autopsies? 

16.  In what cases are autopsies done? Who determines whether an autopsy is done? 

17.  How many autopsies have you performed? 

18.  Please describe what is done in an autopsy. 

19.  Are the procedures you just described in accordance with generally accepted standards or guidelines in your field?  

20.  Where do those standards/guidelines come from? 

21.  Did you perform an autopsy on (name of decedent)? On what date? 

22.  How long did the autopsy last? 

23.  What were the major findings of your autopsy? Did you find any injuries? 

24.  During the autopsy, were photographs taken of (name decedent)’s injuries? 

25.  I hand you photographs that have been marked as State’s Exhibits numbers ____ (autopsy photographs) and ask if you recognize these photographs? 

26.  Would using these photographs help you explain the types and location of injuries you found when examining (name decedent)’s body? 

27.  Do these photographs accurately show the condition of (name decedent)’s body as it was when you performed an autopsy of it on (date)? 

Move to introduce autopsy photographs into evidence as illustrative or substantive evidence. 

28.  Please use the photographs and describe what injuries you found on (the decedent’s) body. 

Using the photographs, ask the pathologist to: 

a. Describe what injuries he or she found (nature; location and number of injuries); 

b. Define the terminology used to describe the injuries (for example, what is a contusion, laceration, avulsion, etc.); 

c. Use autopsy photographs or slides to show each injury (be sure to mark and introduce all photographs and slides as exhibits). 

29.  Based on the autopsy of (decedent) that you’ve just described, were you able to form an opinion as to the cause of death? 

30.  Did you prepare a written report summarizing your findings and conclusions in this case? 

31.  I'm handing you a document that has been marked as State’s Exhibits number ____ (autopsy report) and ask if you recognize the document? 

32.  Would using this document help you explain the conclusions you reached as to the cause of death in this case? 

Move to introduce the witness’s autopsy report into evidence as illustrative or substantive evidence. 

33.  What is your opinion as to the cause of death in this case? 

Ask the pathologist for an opinion on any other relevant issues (be sure to discuss this with the pathologist before trial), such as: 

a. Fact of death. 

b. Paths of the bullets. 

c. Position of the deceased’s body when wounded. 

d. Distance between the deceased and assailant (and weapon) when wounded. 

e. Type of weapon that inflicted wound. 

f. Time of the deceased’s death (post mortem interval). 

g. Capabilities and actions of the deceased after being wounded. 

h. Evidence of struggling during the assault (defensive wounds). 

i. How long did the deceased live after being wounded. 

j. How much pain did the deceased suffer after being wounded.